Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Twins 3, White Sox 1
Twins 4, White Sox 3

I had a feeling the White Sox would be a little easier to handle this time around. These were last year's White Sox, occasionally hitting solo homers, but otherwise anemic at the plate. After sweeping the 2-game series, the Twins finish April just 1.5 games out of first place.

Kudos to Boof Bonser, who had by far his best stuff of the season, allowing 1 R on 6 H and 1 BB in 7 IP with 8 K. The strikeouts were the best sign - double the amount he'd had in any single game so far this year. He managed 4 quality starts in 5 tries without missing many bats; I can't wait to see what he can do if he gets in the groove.

Nick Blackburn was hit around a bit, but as he did against Cleveland, he got big outs when he needed them. He was also able to complete 7 IP, allowing 3 ER on 8 H and 2 BB with 4 K. He'll certainly be sticking around the rotation for awhile.

Offensively, the lineup didn't do very much: only 7 R on 14 H and 7 BB (a week's worth for this team). But the hitting was very timely. The guys who hit last night (Mauer, Kubel, Young) didn't do much today, and vice versa with Gomez and Morneau.

Managerial note:

Gardy, Gomez led off the 7th inning with a bunt single, then Brendan Harris sacrificed him to second on the first pitch. Harris has been one of the Twins' best hitters this month. Gomez is one of the best base-stealers in the league. Pierzynski is one of the worst catchers at throwing out base-stealers in the league. I bet the Sox could pitch-out and Gomez would still steal on AJ. Why pay Harris' AB to get a runner to second when you can get him there for free? Give him a couple pitches to run on. Harris can sacrifice him to 3rd if you want to play it that way.

Span vs. Gomez

Speaking of Gomez, I'm going to keep harping on this as long as their respective play merits it.

In the bottom of the 4th, with the Twins leading 3-2, Gomez was on 2nd with Mauer batting and spot-starter Nick Masset still on the mound. Masset is a reliever, and at 65 pitches was likely tiring. Mauer, the Twins' best hitter, was ahead in the count 3-1 against the right-hander. Gomez, perhaps the fastest guy in the league, could effortlessly score on any base hit to the outfield with 2 outs. Yet he chose that moment to steal 3rd base. He succeeded, the ball got away, and he was thrown out at the plate trying to score. How exciting!

Replays may have shown that he should have been called safe, but Gardy was so shocked that Gomez would attempt such a foolish play, even he couldn't find the strength to put up much of an argument. Gomez claimed that he saw a steal sign from the dugout. I would be astounded if any such sign was given by anyone with authority to give signs. Mauer started the 5th facing LHP Matt Thornton - he grounded out.

Meanwhile, in 7 games at AAA Rochester, Denard Span has 8 singles and 7 walks, for an OBP of .429. Yaaaawwwwnnnn. He also has 5 SBs, though he's managed to get himself picked off twice. I know, not as exciting as Gomez, but it's something...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Real Livan Hernandez

Twins 12, Rangers 6
Rangers 10, Twins 0

I knew he was lurking around the clubhouse somewhere. It was only a question of where he would show up. Answer: in the West. In his two starts on this road trip, Livan Hernandez went just 8.2 IP, allowing 11 ER, 16 H, 3 BB, 5 K. His season ERA stands at 5.05, his WHIP at 1.46, his BAA at .310.

And April is his "good" month.

If only someone had wanted to trade for him after three starts. Now, he'll probably have to be ignominiously released sometime next month once the team is comfortable promoting Kevin Mulvey, Brian Duensing or Francisco Liriano. Livan's been better than Liriano, and with Kevin Slowey injured, it was good to have him around, I guess. But I think that once he's released after 10-12 starts for a younger pitcher who performs consistently better, we'll be asking ourselves the same thing we asked about Ponson, Ortiz and Batista: why was it necessary to suffer through two months of mediocrity/incompetence when better prospects were available in the system? I hope this is the year the Twins finally learn their lesson.

As for the offensive side of things, it was great to see everything click on Saturday, especially a HR from Cuddyer in just his second game back. I preferred Mauer in the #2 slot, but Harris has been having good enough ABs that he's a good choice for that spot as well. At least Mauer will be hitting behind somebody with an OBP north of .300. Moving Delmon Young down in the lineup is also a good move at this point - until he starts popping doubles and homers, he's not much protection for Morneau. Good to see Lamb starting to heat up.

On Sunday, maybe Livan's lugubrious suckitude took everybody out of the game mentally, but it was disheartening to see the offense let Vicente Padilla pitch a CG shutout against them. Particularly upsetting was the fact that they forced him to throw 23 pitches in the first inning, but just 98 pitches over the next 8. Jason Kubel is largely to blame, flying out on the first pitch of the 2nd to set up a 6-pitch inning. I love Kubel, but he hacks at the first pitch way too often in situations where a little grinding patience would serve the team better.

Kevin Slowey was excellent in his second start in Fort Myers, allowing only a walk in 5 IP. Clearly, he's too good for Single-A: in 8 IP he allowed just 1 ER on 1 H and 1 BB. He's on target to start Thursday for Rochester, and if he looks good there, he'll be in line to start in Chicago the following week. That will be a big lift for the Twins' battered rotation.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

One Bad Inning

Rangers 6, Twins 5 (10 innings)

Tough loss last night, though I'm not really that upset about it. The season is young, yet the Twins have already managed to lose every type of close game:

Great pitching, no offense (1-0 to the Angels). These really upset me.

Terrible pitching, tons of offense (11-9 to the Tigers). These upset me almost as much.

Decent pitching, decent offense (last night). Ho hum.

The Twins put together 2 early rallies, each started by bunt singles from Carlos Gomez. My goodness, he's a terror when he actually puts those in play. Joe Mauer drew walks in each case, and Justing Morneau finished them off with RBI hits. His first was a terrific 2-strike liner past the shortstop on a curveball down and away - great piece of hitting. The second was a first pitch laser shot over the right-field wall for a grand slam.

That was about it for the night. Brendan Harris was pitched extremely tough - his 3 K all came on filthy pitches. Jason Kubel had three well-hit shots to the outfield that were tracked down. Punto lined into a double play the one time in four ABs he hit the ball hard.

On the pitching side, Blackburn looked pretty good, once again. As fortunate as he was to have everything hit right at somebody for a DP in his last start, he was unlucky last night to have them find holes. The pitches to Hamilton and Blalock in the 3rd inning were up - everything else was just out of the reach of the fielders. Botts just went down and got the curveball he lined off the RF wall to start the DP. (Let that be a lesson to everyone - don't run on Cuddyer, even the day after he comes back from a finger injury.) A pitcher like Blackburn, who throws strikes and invites contact, is going to run into a bad inning like that every now and then. Nothing to be concerned about.

The bullpen did just fine, allowing 1 R in 3.2 innings. Rincon wasn't helped by the situation he was in in the 10th: the OF was playing a little shallower than they would have been to try and give themselves a better shot at getting the winning run at the plate.

The Rangers are a pretty good hitting team, and they'd been shut down the day before, so a breakout like they had wasn't unexpected. Tonight, they'll be sending our old friend Sidney Ponson out there. If the Twins lose to him, I think I will be upset.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Going Down

Athletics 11, Twins 2

Yeaaah, I had a bad feeling about this one. A pitcher struggling to regain his command matched up with one of the most institutionally patient teams in all of baseball was a recipe for disaster. Francisco Liriano couldn't get himself out of the 1st inning Thursday, the shortest start by a healthy Twins pitcher since the mid-1990's. Sensibly, the team has elected to send him to the Minors until he gets it together.

Carlos Gomez led off the game with a home run. Swinging as hard as he does, it was probably just a matter of time before someone left a pitch up to him where he could park it. He added a single later, raising his 2008 hitting line to .242/.258/.352. Denard Span got a pinch-hit single late in the game to raise his line to .258/.324/.258. Insensibly, the team elected to send him to the Minors until...I don't know. I guess until Gomez stinks it up for another couple of weeks.

The Twins will try to get well this weekend vs. Texas. They'll be sending out their most consistent starters against the worst pitching team in the AL so far. Hopefully, a few more guys will break their HR droughts (Mauer? Lamb? Young?). If they can win the series, this could still turn out to be an OK road trip.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

No Support

A's 3, Twins 0

Poor Boof Bonser. Last night he gave the Twins his 4th quality start in 5 appearances, yet dropped to 1-4 on the season. The team has produced 7 runs in the 29 innings Bonser has pitched so far.

With Chad Gaudin doing a terrific job of keeping the Twins' hitters off-balance all night, this game was a perfect time to work some counts and elevate his pitch totals. Not in the game plan, apparently. Gaudin needed just 84 pitches to complete 7 innings. He threw only about 50 through the first 5 IP.

Denard Span didn't contribute much to Gaudin's stress level. He saw only 6 pitches in his three ABs, reaching on an infield single to start the game. Gardy sensibly pinch-hit Brendan Harris vs. LHP Alan Embree in the 8th, so Span didn't get another chance to reach a second time. That creates this interesting comparison as Cuddyer prepares to come off the DL tomorrow:

Gomez: .230/.247/.310 = .557 OPS
Span: .233/.303/.233 = .536 OPS

At least one of them will get a few more ABs with which to influence matters this afternoon. But if you had to have one of those guys as your CF/leadoff hitter, who would you prefer? Joe C. has made his choice, and Aaron Gleeman and Nick are also accutely aware of the problem. Hopefully the Twins will do something about it soon.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Better to Be Lucky

Twins 5, A's 4

I had house guests last night, so I didn't get to watch/listen to the game. I was able to check in on Gameday periodically. My thoughts based on that, the box score, and the write-up:

Sounded like a lot of the Twins' hits were well-placed. Those can be the ones that get slumping guys going sometimes. Hopefully that will be the case for Mike Lamb.

Craig Monroe absolutely owns Joe Blanton. I wonder if he can say that about any other RHP. Great to see him raise the SLG% and join the HR parade (such as it is).

Livan Hernandez continues to pitch well enough to keep the Twins in the game, but he's showing signs of cracking. He allowed just 5 ER in his first 3 starts, allowing no HR and walking none with 7 IP in each game. These starts were against the Angels and Royals, who rank 12th and 13th in the AL in team walks, respectively (guess who's #14!). His last 2 starts, he has allowed 7 ER, 4 HR and 6 walks while pitching 6 innings each. He's crafty enough to get away with allowing just over a H/IP, but not if the H is a HR, and not if there's a BB right in front of it (as was the case in the 6th last night). If Monroe didn't have Blanton's number, Livan's pitching performance would have resulted in a loss.

Solid work again by the bullpen: Rincon, Neshek and Nathan combined for 3 IP, H, BB, 5 K. Keep that up.

Span vs. Gomez

I haven't been able to make any comparisons recently, since Span has been out of the lineup following his atrocious performance in the final game of the Rays series (0-3, K, 2 E). But surely Gomez surpassed those depths of suckitude last night (0-5, 4 K, E). Since one of Span's errors was the result of the poor design of the Metrodome (no one doubts that he can catch balls that he can see), I'm calling the Error category even between those two. Gomez gets extra points for the game saver on Sunday. But at least we can say that Span has not played markedly weaker defense than Gomez (Span gets extra points for playing out of position).

Offensively, Span is hitting .222/.300/.222 through 30 PAs. He has 3 BB, 6 K and 3 SB. Gomez is hitting .230/.247/.310 through 89 PAs. He has 2 BB, 24 K and 9 SB. In 1/3 the playing time, Span has 3/2 the BB, 1/4 the K, and 1/3 the SB of Gomez.

It sounds like Span will get a start tonight against RHP Chad Gaudin. If he can reach two times, it should be enough to warrant serious discussion as to which young OF the Twins send back to Rochester when Cuddyer is activated from the DL on Friday.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Pitching and Defense

Twins 3, Indians 0

Twins 2, Indians 1 (10 innings)

The Indians were the single biggest reason the Twins didn't make it to the happy side of .500 in 2007. They beat the Twins in 14 of 18 meetings, including every time Santana faced them. While their pitching staff stymied the hitters, they always managed to get the big hit just when they needed it, or the Twins would give them an extra out or base with a defensive miscue.

Not so much this weekend.

Although the Tribe's only run on Sunday was a direct result of an unturned double play (high relay throw from Brendan Harris), the Twins otherwise made every play they were supposed to make, and several they weren't. Infielders and outfielders were diving around all over the field, most notably when Carlos Gomez saved the game with his sprawling catch in the 9th. The defense did turn 5 DPs, four in support of Nick Blackburn on Saturday. Delmon Young picked up his 3rd OF assist to preserve the shutout. Neither team committed an error in the series.

Blackburn's performance was a clinic in minimizing damage. Though he allowed a baserunner in just about every inning, he didn't hurt himself with walks, and his sinker kept setting up DPs. The very definition of "scattering" 8 hits in 7.2 innings. Had the Twins been able to pad the lead a bit, I thought he might get the chance to match Carlos Silva's 11-hit, 6 DP shutout vs. the Angels a few years ago.

Scott Baker was arguably even more effective, allowing just 5 hits and one walk in 7 innings. The missed DP chance extended the second inning by 3 batters and 13 pitches, so had it been turned, Baker might well have completed 8 shutout innings. His 8 Ks were 1 short of his career high.

The bullpen was nearly flawless as well, allowing only 3 baserunners in 4.1 innings. It was particularly heartening to see Neshek come in with a runner on in the 9th and slam the door (thanks, again, to the athletic prowess of Gomez), something he was unable to do in Chicago and Detroit.

Last weekend, the Twins took 2 of 3 from KC despite scoring just 8 runs in the series. Hard to top, but they did it this weekend, taking 2 of 3 from the Tribe despite scoring just 5 runs in the 3 games.

Three weeks into the season, the Twins are near the bottom of the AL in runs (13th), OBP (14th) and SLG (12th), yet are tied for second place in the division, just 2.5 games behind the White Sox. This is thanks to a pitching staff that ranks very highly in ERA (3rd), fewest walks allowed (1st), and WHIP (1st), and a defense which is among the leaders in throwing out baserunners (1st in caught stealing %, tied for 1st in OF assists). Thank goodness for pitching and defense, otherwise the Twins would be in big trouble.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Out of Control

Indians 4, Twins 0

Liriano was a little better tonight in his second start. While he was just as wild (5 BB), he lasted a bit longer (5 IP), gave up 1 fewer run (3 ER), and 2 fewer hits (4) than in his previous appearance. Not as many of the balls put in play were hit hard. A step forward for Liriano, albeit a small one. He won't be able to take a big step until he can locate his fastball.

There wasn't much hope against Cliff Lee tonight, as with Bannister in Liriano's previous start (Liriano must be jealous of Boof Bonser's run support!). The Twins gave themselves an excellent chance by having lengthy ABs in the early innings. I was particularly impressed with the bottom of the 5th, when Lee had to throw 19 pitches to get Young, Kubel and Monroe in order. At the end of that inning he was at 80 pitches. As it turned out, he left the game after 109 pitches despite giving up just 2 hits and being in total command of the game. That goes to show that had the Twins built off that taxing 5th, they might have been able to get Lee out of the game an inning or so earlier had they continued to have grinding ABs. Instead, Harris, Punto and Gomez went down on 6 pitches total in the 6th, Morneau hit into a double play in the 7th, and Lee was able to start the 8th still shy of the 100-pitch mark.

Two bright spots in a dull night:

Rincon and Crain each pitched 2 innings, walking none and striking out 2. The obligatory Casey Blake HR (he's got to get at least one in every series vs. the Twins - it's a rule) was the only hit allowed by either. Another solid outing from the middle relief!

Young and Monroe had as productive a combined 0-5 as is possible on a night like tonight. Together they saw 34 of Lee's 109 pitches. Young drew his 3rd walk of the season. The only AB for these two that lasted fewer than 5 pitches was when Monroe drove the 2nd pitch to the wall in left-center to end the 8th. If only the rest of the lineup had been so pesky!

First Split: 7-9

The baseball season is often compared to a marathon. Both are long events, requiring a steady effort over an extended period of time. To keep themselves from getting out too fast or too slow, runners pay attention to their split times. For example, if you can run each mile of a marathon in about 7 minutes, you'll be on pace for about a 3-hour race.

I like to divide the baseball season into tenths: 8 16-game splits and 2 17-gamers. Not only is it convenient to think in terms of decimals (rather than the more evenly divisible 9ths), but it's an amount of games over which 1 game makes a meaninful difference. If your team wins 8 of every 16 games, they'll finish .500 - better luck next year. But if they win 9 of every 16, that puts a team on pace to win 91 games. Lately, that's been good enough to get an NL team into the playoffs. In the AL, it will at least keep the fans interested into the last week of the season.

The Twins came up 2 games short of that benchmark, but there's no reason for concern at this point. There were 4 games (the 1-0 loss to the Angels and the 3 bullpen losses on the road trip) that were within the Twins' power to win, or at least not lose. I'd pay particular attention to the Angels loss, when the only run of the game scored on a wild pitch, and the Monday night meltdown vs. the Tigers, when the fatal inning was extended by Everett's hurting throwing arm. It doesn't take much to turn games like those around in the future.

16 games is probably too small a number of games to tell you anything about how individual players are doing. Every starting pitcher should only get about 3 starts. Every regular position player should get about 60 plate appearances. Each member of the bullpen should get about 4 appearances. All of those amounts fall well within a "hot" or "cold" period that a particular player might be going through, so I don't pretend to make any meaningful projections for the remainder of the season based on such small numbers. Collectively, though, there have been some interesting trends during the first tenth of the season:

Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel are the only players who have hit home runs so far. The Twins have been out-homered 19-7.

Twins starters are averaging just under 6 IP (OK), 1.8 BB/9 (good), 4.7 K/9 (not good). If the walk rate goes up, the K rate will have to go with it, or there's going to be trouble.

The Twins 2 most effective relievers so far, Joe Nathan and Dennys Reyes (combined 0.00 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 0 BB, 9 K) have pitched just 9.2 innings together. Matt Guerrier (5.79 ERA, 1.82 WHIP, 4 BB, 6 K) has pitched 9.1 innings.

Carlos Gomez is leading the league in SB. He's just 2 off the league lead in K with 17. Everyone else in the top 20 in the AL in K either has an OBP well over .300 or an ISO power over .130, with the exception of the A's' Jack Hannahan, who has an OBP nearly identical to Gomez' despite hitting just .167. Shorten up and put it in play, Go-Go!

Hopefully Cuddyer will come off the DL shortly into the next batch of 16 games, giving a boost to the top of the order. Liriano figures to make 4 starts during that stretch, so it will be interesting to see how he progresses. Bold prediction: more than two Twins will have hit homers by the end of the 32nd game!

In business news, Forbes posted its valuations of the MLB franchises this week. The Twins ranked 25th, but increased their value by 14%, the 10th straight season their value has increased, and the 3rd straight in which it has increased by 14% or more. The Twins' franchise value has more than doubled over the past 5 seasons.

Total revenue has been increasing at a similar rate in recent years. Applying the Twins' stated formula of 51% of revenue going to player payroll, the team should be paying $76 million in salaries in 2008. Even if the revenue growth slows to about 10% annually, the Twins should have no trouble fielding a $100 million payroll by 2011.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Blecch Brothers

Rays 7, Twins 3

I missed the game tonight while I was at Happy Hour with my co-workers. An immense number of co-workers, happily drinking together. Happy for 3 hours, actually. Happier than I'd have been listening to the game, safe to say.

I root for the Twins, you know. I want them to do well. To exceed expectations. To prove their doubters wrong. So it's demoralizing to come home and check the box score and find that two of the guys I was especially rooting for did this:

Boof Bonser: 4+ IP, 7 R, 6 ER, 7 H, 2 BB, 0 K, 1 HR

Denard Span: 0-3, K, R, SB, 2 E

I don't have much context here. I don't know how hard Span hit the ball. I don't know if the hits Boof gave up were mostly bloopers and bleeders. I guess Span lost a ball in the bank of lights - we've seen outfielders struggle with that play for years. But the results are just flat-out yucky. Blecch. I'm sure they both can't wait to put this game behind them.

Interesting to see all 8 hits come from the first 5 hitters in the lineup. It was just the opposite in Bonser's last start in KC. Funny game.

Span vs. Gomez

Gomez good. Span bad. 'Nuff said.

Sweet Relief

Twins 6, Rays 5

The Twins got back into the win column and evened their home record last night.

Livan finally started to show some cracks. Coming into the game he had a 2.57 ERA and 1.05 WHIP, going 7 innings in each of his first 3 starts, walking 1 and allowing no homers. Last night only 3 of the 5 runs he allowed were earned thanks to Brendan Harris' error, so his overall ERA remains low (3.00). But he served up 3 walks and 3 homers, and his WHIP for the game was 1.83. The Rays were pretty patient with him, forcing him to throw strikes, elevating his pitch count to 103 through just 6 IP. He was fortunate it wasn't worse - a DP and Mauer gunning down 2 potential base stealers helped him escape a couple of jams.

Still, when he left the Twins were in the game, and this time the middle relief did the job. Dennys Reyes saw his first action in over a week, taking over in the 7th with 1.1 efficient innings. Juan Rincon came in to finish the 8th, allowing a 2-out single but no other trouble. It was enough to earn the bullpen its first win of the season after an 0-3 road trip.

Each team took advantage of defensive miscues to score runs. Harris' error extended the 6th until Riggins could come up and hit a game-tying, 2-run HR. In the previous half inning, the Twins scored 2 on a throwing error by our old friend Jason Bartlett, who matched Everett with his 3rd error of the young season. Former Rays Delmon Young and Harris keyed the winning rally in the bottom of the 8th, singling to put runners at the corners with 1 out. Carl Crawford then elected to make a sliding catch on Mike Lamb's slicing foul fly ball, getting the out but giving himself no chance to throw out the tagging Young. With Lamb hitting .156, and Dan Wheeler allowing a very low BAA, Crawford might have been better off letting that one drop for a strike.

While they got some favors from the Rays, the Twins also helped themselves by working James Shields, a very solid young pitcher. He lasted just 5 innings, yielding 5 R (3 ER) on 8 H and a BB. Mauer is 5 for his last 8 and has the average back up to .300. Morneau came a couple feet short of HR #5. Kubel had a couple more hits and an RBI. Harris matched that and continues to lead the team with a .341 BA. Lamb and Punto continue to struggle.

Span vs. Gomez

Span had his worst night at the plate so far, going 0-4 with 2 K. He had a nice AB in the first, lining out on a 2-1 pitch. But other than that, he was pretty weak, twice failing to bring Gomez home from second base, and never getting the ball out of the infield.

Gomez had his first 2-hit game since Livan's last start. He lined a single on a 1-2 pitch in the 3rd, and finally got a bunt down in the 5th. Each time he stole 2nd to raise his League-leading SB total to 9. He raised his line to .262/.284/.369. He made another errant throw from the outfield in the 5th when he had no chance to throw out the speedy Crawford on a ground ball single from BJ Upton - he was fortunate that Morneau was able to cut the ball and keep Upton at first.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Crazy 8ths

Tigers 6, Twins 5


I didn't think the Twins would lose 2 games all season leading after 7 innings. How about 2 in a row? With the beating the bullpen took Monday night, I thought it was imperative that Baker go at least 7 innings, and he got it done (though he gave up 3 solo homers for the second straight game). Crain was the proper choice to begin the 8th - he's looked as good as anyone in the 'pen so far this year. The ump didn't help with a questionable ball call on the 1-0 pitch, but Crain dug himself a huge hole by walking Polanco (not easy to do!) and sending him to third base with a wild pickoff throw. He already had two strikes on Sheffield, so he had to try and strike him out of keep the ball in the infield. And he did it - foul pop to the catcher!

Whew! Now he just has to get Magglio out.

And that's the problem with the Tigers lineup - it never lets up. Magglio hit a very good slider into the right field corner to tie the game. Cabrera then hit a bad fastball over the wall in left, and that was that.

This could have been a fine road trip had the Twins gotten consistent middle relief. The starters and lineup played well enough for the Twins to go 6-1 on the trip. It's early to be overly concerned about the bullpen, and Gardy says he hasn't lost confidence in anybody. They'll need to get back on track as a group if the Twins are to have any chance in 2008.

But as poorly as the bullpen performed in Detroit, the fact is that, had this series begun the road trip last week, the exact effort the Twins put forth would have gotten them 2 wins instead of 2 losses. The difference is that the Tigers woke up. Bad timing.

Meanwhile, I was pleased both nights with how the offense kept fighting against Todd Jones in the 9th, putting the tying run on base in each game. It was nice to see Delmon Young start hitting some fly balls and doubles, and Craig Monroe had his first 2-hit game in his return to Detroit. Hopefully they're starting to wake up as well.

Span vs. Gomez

Span sat out against lefty starter Nate Robertson, appearing in the 9th as a pinch runner. Gomez led off with a double, stole 3rd, and scored on a groundout by Mauer. His other three ABs were pathetic - a pop-out attempting to sacrifice and 2 Ks. He's supposed to be a good bunter and he can't lay down a proper sacrifice? He also otherthrew the cutoff man in the 5th, though no one advanced.

Cuddyer is hoping to come off the DL on Sunday. If he does, that gives Span 4 more games in his callup. 3 of those games will be started by right-handed pitchers, so hopefully that will give him 12-15 more PAs. If he reaches 4-5 times, and continues to do everything right in the field and on the bases, I hope the Twins will think carefully about who they send down to make room for Cuddy.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Late to the Party

Tigers 11, Twins 9

For two weeks, the mighty Detroit Tigers lineup was last in the league in runs scored. You knew that couldn't last. My hope was that they would extend their slump for the two games the Twins were in town - at least one of the days. And for 5.2 innings last night, it looked like I was going to get my wish. Nick Blackburn shut the Tigers down for that span, allowing no runs on 4 hits. Then, with shocking speed, the Tigers woke up.

Fittingly, it began with a cheap swinging bunt by Gary Sheffield. Then Magglio got a hit. Better start warming up Guerrier. Cabrera, Guillen - by the time the bullpen gates swung open, the Tigers had four straight hits and 3 runs in. Renteria greeted Guerrier with an RBI single, but was kind enough to get himself thrown out between first and second, and the inning ended with the Twins still leading 5-4.

The Twins promptly got those 4 runs back from Bonderman and Bobby Seay, and though Guerrier allowed a leadoff homer from Ivan Rodriguez off the glove of Denard Span in right, the Twins carried a 4-run lead into the 8th. With Neshek and Nathan, the Twins should win just about every time they lead after 7 innings. But they should win every time the lead by 4 after 7 innings.

There are lots of ways to explain what happened in the bottom of the 8th. As soon as Magglio drilled that ball off the wall in center to make the score 9-6, Neshek should have come in. It was a save situation, and Guerrier hasn't been all that great in the early-goings this season. To be fair, he got the next guy - Adam Everett's lazy throwing error allowed Cabrera to reach and forced the Twins to get 4 outs in the inning. When Neshek did get in there with a 2-run lead, he served up 3 hits, including 2 triples, and Jacque Jones' SF was pretty sharply hit as well.

As I said last Monday, if Neshek is going to get knocked around, the Twins are probably going to lose. But when the game got away, there were so many little plays that came back to mind, plays that didn't seem to matter at the time, when the Twins were way ahead. Morneau getting himself trapped off 2nd base on Young's RBI single. Span just missing that catch on Rodriguez. Mauer failing to get that run in in the top of the 8th. Gardy staying with Guerrier and Blackburn a couple batters too long.

I think what it comes down to is a team-wide underestimation of the power of the Tigers to score runs. Let this be a lesson for the 17 games against them to come. Against the Tigers, you can never have enough runs. Against the Tigers, a 4-run lead is a save situation. Against the Tigers, you can't afford to let up, no matter what the score.

On the bright side, with Mauer, Kubel, Sheffield, Guillen and Magglio on my fantasy teams, I had a pretty good night.

Span vs. Gomez

If Span could have come down with that Rodriguez home run, last night would have been his best all-around game so far. As it was, he still went 2-4 with a walk, run scored and an OF assist. The sample size is still very small, but he is continuing the steady play we saw in spring training.

Gomez went 0-5, and is now 0 for his last 15. His line has declined to .246/.271/.351 with 14 K in 57 AB. He took advantage of the fact that other players were on first ahead of him, turning groundouts into FCs and using his time on first to steal a base and score a run.

One thing I'm noticing about him - he's an especially bad hitter with men on base: .306/.342/.417 with the bases empty (not bad!), but .143/.143/.238 with runners on (blecch!). Yes, it's important for the leadoff man to be good at getting on and starting a rally, but since he also hits an average of 1.6 times a game with men on, I'd like to see him do something productive there, too.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Winter Ball

Twins 2, Royals 0
Royals 5, Twins 1

Frigid weather tends to favor pitchers, and with game-time wind chills at or below freezing all weekend, the pitchers had their way with the hitters - as long as they threw strikes.

Boof Bonser was excellent on Saturday night, mixing his pitches and staying ahead of the hitters. Though he did finally walk 2 batters, he was in total control on the balls that were put in play. Billy Butler's single in the 6th was the only hard-hit ball against Bonser in 6 innings. Unlike Monday, the bullpen set up the way Twins wanted, and Guerrier, Neshek and Nathan finished the shutout with a combined 3 IP, 2 H, 3 K and 39 pitches.

Not so good for Francisco Liriano on Sunday. Based on his spring training and the 2 minor league starts this month, it didn't seem like his command was there yet, and that was case Sunday as well. He was constantly behind the hitters, and when he did throw a fastball over it was hit hard. He couldn't finish 5 innings, walking 5 and allowing 6 hits while striking out 4. Hopefully some of it can be attributed to nerves at making his first Major League appearance in over a year, and some to discomfort at the cold weather. At this point, any outing he makes is another step in his recovery, so he's moving along.

Kubel played every game this weekend, rewarding the Twins with some big hits. Punto got just his second start of the season and performed very well, going 2-3. If he keeps it up, I'll be calling for him to replace Everett in the every-day lineup. It was a brutal weekend for Lamb, Young and Mauer - they'll need to break out this week if the Twins are to have a chance.

Span vs. Gomez

Neither one of them did a thing against Bannister on Sunday, but neither did anybody else in the lineup, so I'm not going to worry about that game. Saturday night was Span's first 2-hit game, and he drove in his second run. The 7th inning was where the difference between the two players really became clear. After Gardy astutely called for the hit-and-run on the first pitch to Brendan Harris following Kubel's leadoff single, Span came up with runners at the corners and none out. He hacked at a good fastball, took an off-speed pitch in the dirt, then hit the ball sharply on the ground up the middle with a nice, compact swing, driving in the run. After Punto's bunt single loaded the bases with none out, Gomez came up and hacked wildly at 3 straight sliders out of the zone. Easy strikeout, no further runs scored.

I won't be too hard on either of these guys yet with the sample sizes still so small (54 PA for Gomez, 18 for Span) - Gomez and the rest of the Twins' regulars will get a closer look this coming weekend. However, it's interesting to note that by the end of the second week of the season, after just 12 games, Gomez' hot start has evaporated, and his OBP stands today at .296. Not good for a leadoff hitter. And, because he's at the top of the lineup, Gomez has 6 more PA than any other Twins player. 1 extra PA every 2 games for a guy who gets on less than 30% of the time. Over the course of the season, that's a lot of bad ABs.

Looking at the series as a whole, I'm very pleased to see the Twins win 2 of 3 on the road against a divisional opponent despite scoring a total of 8 runs. Through the first 2 weeks, the Twins are 2nd in the AL in team pitching, making up for an anemic 11th-ranked offense. Funny how everybody was so nervous about the pitching heading into the season. I don't expect Livan to keep it up, of course, so the offense is definitely going to need to get going in order to keep things close.

Hopefully the Tigers will continue to suck for 2 more games.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Livan on the Edge

Twins 5, Royals 0

Tonight's game was a lot closer than it appeared, though the Twins were leading big from the 2nd inning on. The Royals helped them out with a misplayed fly ball in the Twins' 4-run inning. Had Teahen made a routine catch, the only run that inning would have scored on Span's first Major-League RBI. Instead, Gomez got a 2-run double, and scored on a single from the white-hot Matt Tolbert. All 3 RBI hits came with 2 outs.

On the other side of the ball, Livan was very fortunate to get through the first 5 innings with no runs allowed. This was especially true in the 5th, when the Royals loaded the bases with one out. Teahen's single was so hard-hit right at Span that the Royals elected not to send the runner home from 2nd. Hernandez then got Guillen to chase a curve ball out of the zone, and retired Billy Butler on a weak grounder. Scouts take note: apparently, the only way to get Butler out is to throw him 60-MPH curve balls.

Luckily, things worked out for the Twins, and they're back to .500 and within 1 game of the division lead. Hopefully Boof Bonser can get more than 1 run of support tomorrow in a re-match of last Sunday's loss.

Span vs. Gomez

Pretty good night for both guys, though, as it was in spring training, Gomez comes out looking better. As I said, Teahen really helped him out in the 2nd, but he hustled all night and hit some balls hard on 2-strike pitches, something we've seen very little of so far. He came within a borderline call of making it 2 games in a row in which he and Young both drew walks. Span was a borderline call away from a 1-3 line. But he picked up his first RBI and OF assist (Butler needs to just be happy he's on first base vs. our OF), and he had another couple of 6-pitch ABs. Gomez had some longer ABs tonight, and Young, for that matter. Maybe Tolbert and Span are rubbing off on them.

Other thoughts:

Lousy night for Mauer, Kubel, and Lamb (2 of whom are on my fantasy team), although Mauer had a couple of hard-hit balls.

Jesse Crain wasn't out there very long, but he looked fantastic. His fastball was in the mid-90s, and his slider was sharp. He's back!

Kevin Slowey was finally placed on the DL, and Liriano is coming up to start on Sunday. He'll probably be a little rough at first, command-wise, but the Royals aren't walking very much, so maybe they'll help him out. It will be exciting to have him back in any event!

I hope Slowey is able to make a quick recovery. He was the best pitcher in AAA last season, and looked ready to take the next step this spring. When he's finally healthy, the Twins will be in great position to deal Hernandez at the top of his value and perhaps upgrade one of the infield positions.

For as sluggish as the Twins have started, they find themselves in better position than some of their more formidable rivals. With their best baseball still ahead of them, it's not a bad position to be in.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

When It Rains...

Twins 12, White Sox 5

The Twins don't have the most formidable lineup in the league - it's not even in the top 3 in the division. But it's better than 3 runs a game, so an eruption was bound to come sooner or later. Some notable things:

Jason Kubel hit a grand slam and knocked in 6 runs, his best single-game performance since last July when he hit a grand slam and knocked in 7 runs, also against the White Sox in Chicago.

The beneficiary of Kubel's finest days was, in both cases, Scott Baker. In his last 2 starts at US Cellular Field, he's allowed 10 ER in 10 IP, yet is 2-0, thanks to 32 total runs of support. Boof Bonser would kill for a quarter of that.

Carlos Gomez and Delmon Young each drew a walk! I'm going to chart how many times they walk in the same game this season. I'll bet it doesn't happen more than once a month.

Gomez had himself a fine game, despite being picked off in the first. He had 4 PAs that lasted 4 or more pitches, drew the aforementioned walk, did not strike out, and made a fine diving catch.

Every Twins starter had a hit except Adam Everett. Tolbert is starting tomorrow, right?

Congratulations to Brian Bass on his first Major League save (snicker - what a silly stat!). He allowed just 1 ER in 4 IP, saving the rest of the bullpen for a rainy day.

I hope that rainy day comes tomorrow, and keeps up for half the weekend. The Sox lineup is freaky hot right now - I don't like Livan's chances against them. Whenever the game is made up they'll almost certainly have cooled off. In addition, Slowey is still not well, and Liriano doesn't look like he's quite ready to come up yet, so an extra off day or two would be most helpful for the Twins as far as hiding their non-existent 5th starter. Where's Crash Davis when you need him?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

No Relief

White Sox 7, Twins 4

I was watching Blackburn struggle along yesterday, not doing too much damage but certainly not looking very good, just hoping he'd somehow get us through 5 IP, which he eventually did. Gardy called on Guerrier, who has been struggling with his command so far this spring. Despite throwing a lot of balls and issuing a 2-out walk, he got through the 6th unscathed.

At that point, I tried to put myself in Gardy's shoes. You want Neshek to pitch the 8th and Nathan the 9th. But the heart of the order is coming up in the 7th, and Guerrier has been dicey so far. Crain pitched yesterday, and Rincon and Bass have had their troubles in the early-goings. Who do you count on to nurse a one-run lead through this crucial inning? I decided that the best idea would be to hope Guerrier could retire Cabrera, bring in Reyes to face Thome, and then have Neshek go after Konerko for a 4-out hold.

Guerrier did get Cabrera, but Gardy stayed with him, and his lack of control finally caught up to him. Thome walked, Konerko singled, and Neshek came in to try for a 5-out hold. Two singles and a granny later, and the game was out of reach for the Twins' still struggling offense.

Though Reyes has given up a couple of hits in his 2.1 innings, he hasn't walked anyone as yet, so I think his chances against Thome were probably better than Guerrier's. This is the first decision of Gardy's this regular season that I've really second-guessed. However, with the type of tight situations Neshek's going to be pitching in, if he's going to give up 2 singles in front of a HR in 0.2 innings, the Twins are probably going to lose no matter what else is going on. Those are the first runs he's allowed in 2008 (including spring training). I wouldn't be surprised if they're the last he gives up until May.

This game was a great illustration of how important it is to work the starting pitcher and get into the opponent's middle relief. By making Blackburn throw 90 pitches in 5 innings, the Sox put the Twins in a very uncomfortable position, where they had to stretch Guerrier a little longer than they'd like, bring in Neshek a little earlier than they'd like. Having long ABs takes the other team out of their comfort zone.

The Twins were well on their way to doing the same thing to the Sox. They had forced Javier Vazquez to throw 72 pitches through the first four innings, scoring 3 runs on 7 hits and a walk. He had 3 straight 19 pitch innings, and the 1st could have gotten there very easily had Delmon Young not followed Morneau's 5-pitch walk with a 1st-pitch GIDP. Keep that up, and he might have trouble finishing the 6th. But, after Span led off the 5th with a line-out on the 5th pitch, the next 8 batters went down in order on 21 pitches. The worst was the 6th inning, when Young flied out on the 1-0 pitch, Kubel popped out on the 1st pitch, and Harris struck out on three pitches. Blecch.

When the Twins did get into the middle relief in the 8th, they got back to business, grinding Scott Linebrink for 25 pitches, 2 hits and a walk. The damage could have been even greater had Jermaine Dye not run down Kubel's drive to the gap in right-center (second game in a row Kubel's been robbed out there).

My question is: why let up at all? Part of the reason they got 3 runs and 8 baserunners off Vazquez was the fact that they were patient and making him throw their pitch. The Sox dugout was antagonistic towards the plate umpire - he was giving the Twins good calls. Why take the pressure off the pitcher by hacking at whatever slop he serves up?

This brings us to the second phase of this post:

Span vs. Gomez

Gomez did his thing leading off the game: bunt single, SB, scored a run, 1-0 Twins. His second AB was his best of the year: 7 pitches, recovering from 1-2 to work the count full before striking out. After that, he did his other thing: 2-pitch flyout, 3-pitch strikeout, 2-pitch GIDP. Through his first 34 PAs, he has 11 hits and a walk, but also 10 K, and is averaging 3.41 pitches/PA. In 13.5% of the Twins' PAs yesterday, he saw 11.4% of the pitches thrown by the Sox.

Span had a fantastic day as the #2 hitter. He took 4 pitches in his first AB waiting for Gomez to steal, then hit behind him to advance him to third. He slapped a leadoff single on the 6th pitch for his first Major League hit in the 3rd, stole a base, but was stranded at 3rd. He led off the 5th with the aforementioned 5th-pitch liner to Crede. He led off again in the 8th, after the Twins had suffered a demoralizing 5-run rally by the Sox, and ground out a 10-pitch walk to start a rally that would eventually bring the tying run to the plate. In his 7 PAs so far, he's 1-5 with 2 BBs, 0 K, and is averaging 5.86 pitches/PA. In 10.8% of the Twins' PAs yesterday, he saw 19.7% of the pitches thrown by the Sox.

These patterns are a continuation of what we saw in spring training. Though I'm sure he won't be in the lineup against the lefty tomorrow night, I hope the Twins will give Span enough PAs to illustrate what should be clear to everyone by now: Span can help the team more right now. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Justin Time

Twins 6, Royals 4
Royals 3, Twins 1

Great to see the Justin Morneau who signed the big contract finally appear in the lineup. His excellent offensive weekend paved the way to a series win. I got to see most of both games on TV (Sunday in HD - ooooooooh), and noticed some interesting things:

Livan Hernandez is doing his typical April thing. He only gave up a couple of hard-hit balls on Saturday - one when he apparently lost his concentration after a balk (the next pitch was smoked to the wall for a triple). I can't believe he physically tires out as the season goes along, so maybe his problem is mental. Anyway, two 7-inning quality starts, just what he's supposed to do. Should be worth something in a trade later on.

Matt Guerrier needs to stop throwing so many balls. He got away with it again, pitching around a cheap 2-out infield hit and error by Everett. Everett needs to step it up in the infield. The infield hit was a slow chopper up the middle. As he converged on the ball, running toward first base, Tolbert cut in front of him and threw across his body while running toward third base. The shortstop has an easier, shorter throw there, perhaps the difference between safe by half a step and out by half a step. Everett has to call Tolbert off - not only is he captain of the infield, he's played 7 years in the bigs - Tolbert hasn't even played seven games.

Mauer, Morneau and Kubel all swung the bats well this weekend. No surprise there. The surprise is how well Tolbert is swinging. Thanks to his hot start and Harris' flu, Tolbert has nearly as many plate appearances as Everett and Harris. Notice who doesn't have a lot of PAs? Nick Punto, 1 for 3 on the week. All of you who thought Gardy would insist on playing Punto over better hitters owe the skipper an apology.

Boof was solid again on Sunday. He pitched better than Tomko - the reason he gave up more runs is he gave up hits early in the inning, while Tomko was generally able to retire the leadoff hitter.

Which brings us to Carlos Gomez. How interesting to have him and Span hitting back-to-back again. In Gomez' first AB last Monday, he pulled a grounder just fair over third base for a double. In Span's first AB Sunday, he pulled a grounder just foul over first base. Couldn't have been more than an inch foul. Span worked the count full before being retired when Tomko leaped up to stop his bouncer up the middle. He drew a full-count walk in his second AB, then was retired on a sliding stop by the second baseman on an 0-2 swing.

Gomez, meanwhile, on his only base hit of the weekend, a leadoff slicing single to very short right field in the third, got himself thrown out trying to stretch it to a double. Though right fielder Guillen had a long way to run for the ball, he has an excellent throwing arm, and Gomez was easily nailed at second. Two disturbing things about this:

1: do you not know how good the RFs arm is?
2: you're Carlos Gomez - you're going to steal second by the third pitch of the next AB anyway.

He just consistently outruns his brain. Plus, he's struck out 8 times in his first 29 PAs, walking just once. Four of those strikeouts have come on 3 pitches. Span saw 15 pitches in his 3 PAs Sunday. I'll keep tabs on them throughout Cuddy's DL stay.

Lots of good news on the pitching front this home stand. With the exception of the injured Kevin Slowey, each starter pitched at least 6 innings. Even if you throw Slowey in there, the average start this week was 6.1 IP, 3.89 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 2 HR, 1 BB(!), 21 K. That ought to do a lot better than 3-4. But, when the offense averages 2.7 run/game, 3.89 from the starters can be too much to overcome. Too many DPs, too many quick ABs, not enough walks, not enough homers. I'm most concerned about Mr. Lamb after this weekend - he looked awful yesterday, particularly when he dove at a 2-0 changeup with a RISP in the 2nd.

This week the Twins start their road schedule in Chicago. Javier Vazquez has given the Twins trouble in the past, but if Blackburn can back up his performance from last Wednesday, the Twins should be in the game. After an off-day Tuesday, it'll be Baker vs. LHP John Danks, followed by a historic Hernandez/Contreras matchup in the finale. Should be quite a competition to see who can throw the slowest pitch. I hope Gardy will be ready to turn loose the running game on Pierzynski - should be able to steal 3-4 bases/game.

Not a great start to the season, true. But better than the Tigers!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Small Ballers

Twins 4, Royals 3

Another solid game for the pitching staff, and some good hitting and aggressive base running led to the win.

Scott Baker really labored in the first 2 innings. I thought the game was going to last 4 hours the way he was going. Credit the KC hitters for spoiling a lot of pitches and laying off others. So many 5+ pitch ABs. And when they did put them in play, they fell in. Thinking about Slowey's short start yesterday, I wasn't sure what the bullpen was going to do if Baker didn't make it to the 6th. But he settled in, setting down 11 in a row after John Buck's RBI single in the 2nd. The Royals helped out by swinging early in the count and putting balls in play. In the end, despite a rather tight pitch count, Baker managed to pitch 6.2 innings, enough for Neshek and Nathan to take it the rest of the way.

Carlos Gomez had another good game. He got a bunt hit leading off, stole second and scored on Mauer's single. He got another infield hit in the 4th, stole second again, but was stranded when Mauer grounded out. Then he drilled a double in his last AB. He is having about as good a first week with the Twins as anyone could have hoped.

Morneau finally got a hit and another RBI, though Cuddyer was injured on the play while sliding into 3rd. Kubel pinch ran and scored on a groundout by Young. In his other 3 ABs, Morneau struck out and hit into 2 DPs. He's not quite out of the woods yet.

I enjoyed the sequence of events in the 4th inning. Lamb led off with a double, Tolbert sacrificed him to third, then Everett brought him home with a suicide squeeze. Many will deride the use of two sacrifices in an inning, but with light-hitting middle infielders coming up, and Gomez not yet accomplished at hitting with men in scoring position, it was good to see the bottom of the order produce a run using their higher percentage skills.

With Cuddyer headed to the 15-day DL, Denard Span will get his first taste of the Majors this weekend. Whether Gardy will want Kubel to be the RF most of the time, or LF and switch Young to RF, or put Span in CF and move Gomez to RF (as was the case in several spring training games) remains to be seen. If he doesn't start, Span will certainly get some opportunities as a pinch-runner or defensive replacement for Kubel. I thought he earned a spot on the roster in the first place, so I'm happy to see him get a chance so soon, though, obviously, these aren't the best circumstances. Hopefully, he will acquit himself well, and at least prove that he has some value in a future trade.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Last Year's Model

Angels 5, Twins 4

Greetings from my spiffy new (refurbished) Intel Macbook. I heard a quip on NPR's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" a few weeks back to the effect that the only person more smug than a Mac-using Obama supporter is a Mac-using Obama supporter who listens to public radio. I guess that pretty much makes me the smuggest person in the world. I knew I would be.

Anyway, all of this magnificent Leopard-ness is almost enough to make me forget the the disappointment of this opening series between the Twins and Angels. I felt that the Twins had an excellent chance to win these last two games. Two 1-run losses. The tying run aboard in each case. How to make sense of it? Well...

I hope Slowey is OK. I'm counting on him to be perhaps the most consistent member of the rotation this year, so he needs to be healthy. And no more home runs. That goes for the bullpen as well.

As Bass went out for the start of the 7th inning, I thought back to his spring training start a couple weeks ago, when he was great for 3 innings then got whacked in the 4th. When he took the mound for the 7th today, he was at 2.2 innings. I might have brought in Rincon there. Anyway, he was tired, and he fell behind Torii and Napoli and gave back the 2 runs the Twins had scrounged so hard (for 3 days) to produce. Note for the future - let's try to keep Bass to under 3 innings.

I was pleased to see Reyes succeed in bailing out Rincon in the 8th. 3 appearances, 1 IP, 1 H, 1 K, 0 R. Not too shabby. Then he came out for the 9th to face Torii. I was surprised to see him in there against a righty, but he struck him out. Hah! 2 quick strikes on Kotchman, and I was thinking about how good he looked, when he hung an 0-2 slider and gave up a double. Note for the future - when the batter swings and misses at a filthy slider out of the zone, do not throw the next pitch in the zone.

Guerrier came in and bailed out Reyes, but he threw a ton of balls doing it. Walked one and was 3-2 on the #9 hitter before he got out of it. I hope he finds his command soon. For all that drama, Reyes and Guerrier escaped the series without allowing any runs.

Offensively, it was all the same as the previous 2 games through 5 innings. Particularly early, when Santana needed only 19 pitches to get through the first 2 innings. He cruised through 5 shutout innings. This is a pitcher who came into the game with a career road ERA over 7.00.

Finally, in the 6th, the Twins ground out some productive ABs, Mauer following a Gomez hit with an RBI double, Cuddyer grounding him over, Morneau hitting a SF (a ball out of the infield!). In the 7th, against Darren Oliver, Mauer delivered a SF. In the 8th, Kubel hit the Twins' first HR of 2008. Base runners every inning. This is why the Twins should have been working harder to get to the Angels' weakened bullpen.

In the 9th, pinch-hitter Matt Tolbert once again showed considerable discipline by drawing a walk as the potential tying run (though he should have taken the 1-0 pith in that situation). Gomez showed he had no better chance swinging away against K-Rod than bunting. Then, with 2 out, and first base open, Angels manager Mike Scioscia did a remarkable thing: he intentionally walked Joe Mauer, thereby putting the winning run on. Cuddyer worked the count full, ensuring that both baserunners would have a running start and would certainly tie the game on a single, win it on a double. But Cuddyer struck out swinging.

The Twins pitchers allowed 15 ER to the Angels, a 3.75 team ERA for the series. That was only good for one win, because the offense took 26 innings off in the middle of the series. The undisciplined, quick ABs, the DPs, the lack of power, the solid pitching performances wasted. Despite 5 new faces in the lineup, the 2008 Twins bore more than a passing resemblance to last year's model in this series.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Shooting Blanks

Angels 1, Twins 0

Well, crap. As much as I don't mind blowout losses like Tuesday night, I can't stand to lose well-pitched games.

I want to start by accentuating the positive:

Nick Blackburn had a stupendous debut, everything the Twins could have asked from him. He showed more calm in the early-going than Bonser did last night. He settled in and retired 11 in a row through the middle innings. If not for an unfortunate carom from a curveball in the dirt, he might have matched Saunders' performance. If Blackburn can back this performance up with another good one against the White Sox next Monday, he'll give the Twins the luxury of easing Liriano back up to the Show at whatever pace the situation dictates. Extra pressure on Slowey now to deliver, but I think he's up to it.

The defense was very good tonight. Everett had to skip the game to deal with a family emergency, but Tolbert was solid in his place, and Punto did what he does best: play solid defense. And each of them picked up one of the 4 Twins hits. It was great to see Tolbert have the discipline to take a strike leading off the ninth - I might have been tempted to bat Mauer right there, but the kid got himself on base with a 4-pitch walk.

The bullpen, despite a dicey 8th inning, held the Angels scoreless. Tonight, brought in once again to face a lefty with runners in scoring position, Reyes got the ground-ball double play. Neshek was perfect in his inning.

The bad news, of course, is the offense (or lack thereof). If Batgirl were here, I'm sure she'd be saying something about Ass-bats. 4 runs in 26 innings of batting against the Angels 3rd, 4th and 5th best starters is disconcerting to say the least. Tonight, the Twins managed to get only one batter past first base, promptly grounding into DPs in the few occasions they put someone on. Morneau and Monroe remain hitless in the series. Carlos Gomez failed to advance Tolbert in the 9th when he bunted foul three straight times.

Most upsetting to me, Saunders needed only 80 pitches to complete 8 innings. When a pitcher is on his game, the best defense is to make him throw a lot of pitches. Work counts, foul balls off. With Scott Shields and Chris Bootcheck on the DL, the Angels' middle relief is particularly weak in this series. Getting to them should be an integral part of the game plan. Grounding out on the first, second or third pitch offered isn't going to make that happen.

Ervin Santana had lousy road splits for the Angels last year, and the Twins' offense has to get it going eventually. Mauer, Lamb and Kubel will likely be back in the starting lineup, so I still like the team's chances tomorrow. But it wouldn't have taken very much more tonight to make Thursday's game into a series win instead of a split.

Everybody Hurts

Angels 9, Twins 1

Great game to turn off last night. My laptop battery mercifully ran out of juice in the top of the 9th.

I can't remember the last time the Twins played a series against the Angels in which there wasn't at least one game where everything fell in for the Halos. I'm not suggesting they didn't earn most of their hits, but there were a couple of 50-foot bleeders mixed in for good measure. That's fine - they'll almost certainly collect fewer than 15 hits tonight and Thursday.

I was glad that the lineup (minus Delmon Young), defense, and every member of the bullpen chose last night to suck. If you're only going to score 1 run, you might as well give up nine and throw in a couple of errors. I would expect everyone who pitched last night to be more effective their next time out.

Boof, in particular, was pretty good anyway. He needed 4 batters to get through his first-start-of-the-year jitters. After that, he allowed 1 ER on 5 hits (one a cheapie) with 4 Ks and no walks in 5.2 innings. Hopefully, in his next start, he won't give up so many extra-base hits.

The Twins will face a left-handed starter tonight, and I'm interested to see the lineup that Gardy puts together. In his brief career so far, righties have hit Mr. Saunders considerably better than lefties, so I'm sure Monroe will DH. I'd like to see Redmond catching tonight and Friday night, when KC is scheduled to start a LHP. With day games on Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, it would seem to make sense to put Mauer on the day schedule anyway. Will Lamb still be in the lineup? Punto historically has been weaker (gulp) against lefties. Maybe Tolbert will get the start.

I like the Twins' chances the rest of this series. Blackburn and Slowey have at least as much potential as the Angels' starters. And with only 4 runs (and 0 HRs) in two games, there's plenty of room for the Twins' lineup to get hitting - especially Morneau (0-7). The Twins are very fortunate to be facing the Angels at a time when their pitching staff is so weakened by injuries. The Twins should be able to at least pull off a split against a stronger team, though they will probably be outscored in the process.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Right Foot Forward

Twins 3, Angels 2

Just the way they drew it up! This Twins team, like so many in the recent past, has been built to win 3-2 games. Tonight's win came thanks to some of the new faces. Notably:

Carlos Gomez
By the end of spring training, I was used to thinking that Gomez was out once he got two strikes on him. I credit him for, first of all, taking a strike in his first AB, and especially for getting a 2-strike double in the first (thanks also to Weaver for hanging a slider). We know when he gets on, he's going to steal, and can possibly beat a throw even if it's a pitch-out. He might have drawn two walks in this game had he had the discipline to lay off a 3-2 slider in the 7th.

Livan Hernandez
After one game, Livan has matched Santana in IP and ERA. His sinker was working well, and he moved the ball around, changing speeds. It helps that the Angels aren't a particularly patient hitting team. He got hit pretty hard the second time through the order, but Hunter's line-out double play saved him, and kept the damage to just 2 runs in the 5th. This does make me hopeful that he can have a solid start to the year, and his trade value will be reasonably high at the beginning of summer.

Delmon Young
2-4 with a run scored and a steal, and nearly threw out Chone Figgins at second on a double into the LF corner. If a speedster like Figgins only barely beats Young's throw, I think we'll see a lot of other guys just settle for singles. Young is going to have to quit hacking at the first pitch, though.

Some other quick thoughts:

Mauer did a great job in the #2 slot, advancing Gomez every time he was on base, with an RBI single in the 1st and groundouts in the 3rd and 5th.

Neshek and Nathan were both terrific, each allowing only a cheap 2-out hit. 1-0 when leading after 7 innings.

Great to see the Twins steal 4 bases. I don't know why the aggressiveness they showed at the start of last season, when they stole 19 bases in a row, faded over the course of the year. They're more likely to win when they run the bases like that.

Pretty good defense from everybody.

I don't expect these performances night in and night out. But it's a nice start.